Your nervous system originates from your brain and controls everything, involuntary and voluntary. When you move, think, blink, breathe or respond automatically to stimuli around you, it’s your nervous system controlling everything. It acts as a command central, sending messages and signals for other processes like your digestive system or respiration.
Parts of the Whole – The Nervous System
To understand your nervous system, learning the different parts is helpful. Structurally, the main two parts are the central and peripheral nervous systems. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is all the nerves that branch off the spinal cord and extend to every part of the body. The nervous system transmits signals between the brain and all body parts, including organs. These signals control every activity, whether involuntary like breathing or digestion or voluntary like walking or talking.
Functionally, the nervous system is made up of two main subdivisions. These are known as the somatic (voluntary) and the autonomic (involuntary). The somatic nervous system is the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord nerves to the muscles and skin sensory receptors. The autonomic nervous system is like a computer program constantly running processes in the background. It regulates body processes, such as breathing and blood pressure, that continue without effort.
The Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system controls crucial body processes such as circulation, digestion, breathing, heart rate and other involuntary movements. It works without a person’s conscious effort and maintains balance within the body. The autonomic is subdivided into three systems:
Sympathetic – directs the body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous situations, often referred to as the “fight or flight” response.
Parasympathetic – controls the body’s ability to stay calm and rest and relax, sometimes called the “rest and digest” state.
Enteric – Often called the second brain, this system controls the function of the gastrointestinal system.
Most people remain in their sympathetic nervous system, which reacts to stress. This reactive response keeps you safe and alert when necessary, but the perpetual state of stress causes the body to flood the bloodstream with stress hormones, inhibiting relaxation. It’s impossible to think clearly or find peace when stress hormones, like cortisol, are in control. However, learning to activate the parasympathetic nervous system can remedy this and protect the body from damage due to the constant fight of flight status.
How to Activate Your Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system is a built-in-healing system and there are ways to strengthen that connection to enhance its protective qualities. Learn how to hack your nervous system to shift out of survival mode into healing and thriving using one or more of the following techniques:
- Yoga or Tai Chi
- Guided Meditation
- Practicing Gratitude
- Connecting with Mature (Grounding)
- Hugging & Cuddling
- Restorative Hobbies
Making that shift isn’t as simple as doing occasional yoga or meditating. Moving from fight or flight to healing, thriving, resting and digesting under the expert guidance of an instructor guarantees the best results.
Stop Living in Survival Mode Everyday
Many people live in sympathetic overload because the body can’t distinguish between everyday stress and an actual “fight or flight” situation. This overload is no longer positive and it affects the body’s ability to digest food properly, impedes healthy sleep and can cause various physical or mental health issues. We don’t always recognize that we are in overload, but signs like exhaustion, feeling overly emotional or stressed are all symptoms.
Finding a healthy balance and learning how to switch off the stress response through the techniques mentioned above is essential. It’s also crucial to make a conscious effort to slow down as well as plan and prioritize your schedule to avoid tight deadlines or feeling overwhelmed. Practice what feels good to you and learn to recognize when your sympathetic nervous system is in overload requiring intervention to regain homeostasis.